More Than Murder


In the newsroom at Tijuana’s most irreverent magazine, Zeta, Francisco Ortiz had a reputation as a man of few words. But he spoke out loud and clear in his signed editorials, which would habitually expose the collusion between well-known businessmen and corrupt officials, or the brutal deeds of the infamous Tijuana drug cartel.

Monday, his voice was silenced when a masked gunman pulled up to his car and shot him four times in front of his children, aged 8 and 10. His killer had good reason to think he could get away with it. After all, this wasn’t the first time Zeta and its personnel had been attacked.

In 1987, someone emptied the clip of an Uzi submachine gun into the facade of the magazine’s building. The local police didn’t launch an investigation, telling reporters that the attackers were “big-league guys” warning the magazine not to mess with the drug trade. The warning, however, didn’t stop Publisher Jesus Blancornelas and his courageous journalists from uncovering unpleasant truths about life in the border city.


One year later, three gunmen shot to death Hector Felix Miranda, nicknamed “the Cat,” a co-editor of Zeta. Two of the killers were arrested and ended up in jail. The third was mysteriously murdered. The convicted killers were part of the security apparatus of Jorge Hank Rhon, who is running for mayor of Tijuana as the candidate of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI. Ever since the slaying, Zeta has published a full-page notice in every edition asking Hank why his bodyguards killed Miranda.

In November 1997, Blancornelas was ambushed by a group of assassins. He was struck by five bullets but survived. Luis Valero, his security guard, died with 38 bullets in his body. Since that day, a dozen soldiers have been on 24-hour duty to protect the publisher.

On Wednesday, federal and state authorities began their investigation into Ortiz’s death. The main suspects are the known local drug lords and their armies, as well as government officials suspected of taking bribes from area business people. Mexican President Vicente Fox must demand and fund a credible investigation that doesn’t rely on scapegoating. Killing this journalist wasn’t just murder; it was an attack on freedom of expression.